I have a soft spot for movies about messed up families. If dysfunctional families were a film sub-category, you know, like coming-of-age is, I'd have to say it's one of my favorites.
I don't simply have a thing for dysfunctional families. I come from a dysfunctional family. And, trust me, if a film were made called The Aukemas (my maiden name) and based on the Aukemas (my family of origin), it would not make for enjoyable viewing.
THE HOLLARS, though, is enjoyable to watch. Trust me on that, too. The dramedy puts fun in dysfunction and proved a pleasurable hour and a half with the Mom, Dad, and two adult brothers who make up the fictional Hollar clan.
I give (most of) the credit for that fun and pleasure to John Krasinski. Sure, he played the youngest Hollar brother to perfection, but his acting takes a backseat here to his directing (he also produced it).
His first time in the director chair, Krasinski — working with a stellar screenplay by Jim Strouse — deftly directed an all-star cast including Margo Martindale, Richard Jenkins, Sharlto Copley, Anna Kendrick, Charlie Day (plus many other amazing actors in smaller roles) culminating in a touching look at the mayhem resulting from a matriarch's unexpected brain tumor diagnosis.
Doesn't sound very funny, right? That's the magic of THE HOLLARS! There are more chuckles — and a few snorts, for sure — than sniffles despite the gravity of the situation. Grief naturally plays a part, as one might expect in such a story, yet I caution those who see a storyline that includes death and dying and immediately dismiss the film to not do that this time. THE HOLLARS is uplifting, not heartbreaking. Again, trust me.
A quick look at THE HOLLARS:
Margo Martindale and Richard Jenkins reside at the top of my list of favorite character actors, and THE HOLLARS exemplifies why.
Martindale makes Sally Hollar strong and seemingly unflappable yet the depth of love and commitment to her family unmistakable, her pain in seeing their pain written across her face. She's the consummate mother without being oversentimental. She wants to make everything alright — with her sons' relationships, her husband's business failings, and family's fear of losing her — by encouraging them to buck up because, darn it, they got this. Plus, Martindale bravely shaves. her. head. in the film! (Well, Krasinski tenderly does the shaving.)
Richard Jenkins' Don Hollar initially seems a bit of a wimp — his incessant bawling over his wife's condition unexpectedly hilarious — yet when his family needs him to step up, he does... in his own way, on his own time. Leading his sons in an impromptu round of an Indigo Girls song at a pivotal point broke my heart and had it cheering bravo! at the same time. An unforgettable scene I can't imagine anyone other than Jenkins pulling off.
Ron and John Hollar (Copley and Krasinski, respectively) hit all the right notes as brothers who love one another but just don't get one another at all. Each one has powerful scenes one-on-one scenes with Martindale and Jenkins that squished up my heart while making me smile. Unsentimental sentimentality at its best.
Every single person in THE HOLLARS had at least one line that made me chuckle. And at least one that saddened me at the truth of their statement or visible sorrow. Copley was the most surprisingly screwed up, seriously heartbroken yet unintentionally fella in the family. I loved his performance. Even those with smaller parts — including Josh Groban as the new beau of Ron Hollar's his ex-wife and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as John Hollar's ex-girlfriend — are fully dimensional, not simply actors plopped in a part. They were real. And really funny: Groban understatedly so while Winstead was wacky and over the top.
Krasinski and Martindale on THE HOLLARS:
THE HOLLARS is about the choices we make and the people we choose. It's about loving and laughing with those who may not get you but get the importance of shared bonds. It's about hope and the humorous aspects of some of life's infinitely unfunny affairs.
THE HOLLARS (rated PG-13 "for brief language and some thematic material") premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and is now available on DVD and streaming services.